Women who become victims of sexual assault typically experience the victimization as a traumatic event, perceiving it as an emotional shock. Common reactions to this kind of trauma are:
- Fear of losing control of their lives.
- Re-experiencing the assault in thoughts and dreams.
- Trouble concentrating.
- Feelings of guilt.
- Self-image frequently suffers; many women report feeling “dirty’ and shower frequently in an effort to be clean.
- Sense of sadness, feeling “down”, and depressed.
- It is not unusual to see disruption in relationships with others.
- Loss of interest in sexual relations.
Of these reactions ‘fear’ is the most common and the most disturbing.
- Physical reaction. Fear and anxiety are experienced physically (heart pounding, tense muscles, etc.) at the time of the assault and also later in a similar form when something reminds the victim of the assault.
- Mental reaction. Fear is also experienced in the mind, and thoughts sometimes trigger fear. Victims often experience irrational worrisome thoughts and nightmares. This kind of thought invasion leads to victims feeling they are going crazy.
- Behavioral reaction. Victims respond to fear by behaving in a way which allows them to avoid people, places and situations that remind them of the assault.
We know that if you expose yourself to the feared situation often enough, your fear gradually decreases. But it is often difficult for sexual assault victims to talk about the trauma because of these painful fear reactions. The first steps therefore to manage these reactions is to try to keep your body in a relaxed mode, control your thoughts, and to feel good about yourself and what you do. Once you can manage and control this fear you will then be able to confront and discuss the assault, which is integral to the human healing process. The term ‘catharsis’ means to pour out ones emotions and then to be rid of their debilitating effects.